Leadership DNA: How to Use It to Assess Yourself and Employees

Accept that both results and relationship-oriented behaviors are essential to good leadership, and then learn to adapt a few new skills to gain a better balance. Small changes pay big returns.

Every person has a unique DNA that guides his or her natural behavioral (personality) strengths and struggles—yes, everyone has both strengths and struggles. This knowledge is grounded in science (i.e., it’s measureable and predictable, not just “touchy feely”), but the application requires awareness and flexibility to adjust your leadership and management to fit the talents and experience of the individual.

Eighty percent of us are inclined to focus on and be more effective at either getting results or building relationships by our natural design. Let’s be honest about the challenging business dynamics:

  • You must get results (accomplish the mission) or you fail.
  • Results get highlighted and rewarded more often than good relationships.
  • Senior leaders typically put more emphasis on getting results than taking care of people. Think of the spreadsheets, updates, dashboards, etc., that exist mainly to show progress toward getting results.

Considering the points above, it’s natural that the higher you go in the organization, the more likely a

leader will be focused on results. The dilemma for all of us is that to succeed over the long haul, leaders have to focus on both sides of the seesaw. That means we have to learn and adapt and apply some skills that are not natural to our DNA.

Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching is an inspiration for many people worldwide, and it also teaches that all behaviors contain their opposites. A show of strength suggests weakness and insecurity. To prosper, you should be generous. To get results, you also must build relationships.

How Can You Assess Where You and Your Colleagues Naturally Tilt?

Assessment tools such as Leadership Behavior DNA can objectively help as you assess, advise, and lead your team. After more than 30 years of research and experience in developing leaders, I’ve found that 40 percent of people have results-oriented strengths with a natural drive to get results—these people just want to get things done. Here are some of their strengths:

  • Big picture, visionary, strategic
  • Straight-forward, give clear expectations
  • Strong work ethic, good problem-solvers
  • Decisive, give direction, firm
  • High standards/goals for self and others
  • Hold people accountable

Another 40 percent of people who have relationships-oriented strengths naturally notice and respond to people, and they usually enjoy seeing them develop. Many in this group are naturally kind and sensitive. They have radar for others’ feelings. Some of their strengths are their ability to:

  • Listen to others’ ideas
  • Care for and are concerned about others
  • Encouraging, give positive feedback
  • Trust others to do the job
  • Supportive, lend a helping hand
  • Respect others

When Did I Witness This Balance in Action?

In my life-changing experience as a captive POW in Vietnam, life was hard—especially the first five years of the war. Food was scarce, and every day at least one or more of us were suffering torture to resist the enemy. Ninety-five percent of us went to the torture chambers at least once, and our senior leaders went most often. Our senior leaders naturally had either a results- or relationships-focused mindset, but in this crucible experience, I witnessed their amazing balance to get results yet take care of their people in this environment. When pressured to the depths of their humanity, their balanced leadership emerged. It was a key survival tactic that allowed most of us to return home with honor, and I’m grateful for their sacrificial leadership.

How Do You Gain a Better Balance?

As mentioned above, the most important solution to better balance is self-awareness. Then balancing your leadership tilt requires a change in the attitude, mindset, and daily behavior.

  • Results-oriented leaders need to soften up. If this is your style, just the idea of softening seems anathema; but developing good interpersonal skills is what’s needed to make you a better leader. You know it—you just don’t want to go there. For example, learning to patiently listen, really understand, and then affirm the ideas of others can feel very scary. For some, the needed skill might be learning to give specific, positive feedback.
  • Relationship-oriented leaders need to toughen up. If you’re someone whose style is naturally, highly relational, you will need to identify a couple of behaviors on the results-oriented chart to work on. Often, this is learning to be more decisive and more direct in giving guidance and setting standards. Casting a stretch vision and conducting difficult conversations is essential to keep the organization and individual team members moving ahead toward successful execution. It may be intimidating, so plan out what you are going to say and then courageously deliver your message.

Which Tilt Is best?

Don’t go down the false trail that one is better than the other. You are the best you can ever be when you are your natural self. Accept that both results and relationship-oriented behaviors are essential to good leadership, and then learn to adapt a few new skills to gain a better balance. Small changes pay big returns.

Do you want to be the leader who creates industry-leading performance and high team morale? Nothing can stop the momentum and success of an authentic, balanced leader.

Lee Ellis is the author of “Engage with Honor: Building a Culture of Courageous Accountability,” as well as the founder and president of Leadership Freedom LLC, a leadership and team development consulting and coaching company, and FreedomStar Media, a publishing company that provides leadership resources and training. He has consulted for Fortune 500 companies and small businesses in the areas of hiring, team building, human performance, and succession planning. Ellis developed a strong interest in leadership as a military officer during the Vietnam War, when his aircraft was shot down over enemy territory and he was held as POW for more than five years. Captured just 11 days after John McCain, he was a lead communications officer in cellblocks in four different camps. His combat decorations include two Silver Stars, the Legion of Merit, the Bronze Star with Valor device, the Purple Heart, and the POW medal.